Thursday, September 6, 2007

Know Thy Neighbor

On Tuesday I got stuck listening to The Conversation. I think Ross Reynolds is a great moderator - he lets people voice their opinions, cuts them off respectfully, and doesn't impose his viewpoints. Unfortunately, I'm not really that interested in hearing what the Hoi Polloi think - I'd rather hear from someone who's actually studied the subject under discussion and can make reasoned, thoughtful arguments. All that to say that I'm usually not a fan of the show.

However, at the end of the show on Tuesday Mr. Reynolds interviewed a member of Know Thy Neighbor Oregon. This year Oregon passed two laws supporting Gay and Lesbian equality (one for same-sex domestic partnerships, and one for anti-discrimination) and some citizens are trying to get initiatives on the ballot to overturn those laws. The Know Thy Neighbor organization is trying to educate people about those initiatives to ensure that if they sign the petitions, they are doing so with full comprehension of what it would mean for Oregon's Gay and Lesbian citizens. They're also letting people know that if the initiatives make it on the ballot, they will publish the names and addresses of every person who signs the petition.

My initial thought on hearing this threat was positive, "good, maybe that'll keep people from putting this offensive initiative on the ballot!" However, that was followed quickly by, "ouch, that's a serious violation of people's privacy and would I still feel the same way if this was an initiative I agreed with?" However, the representative of Know Thy Neighbor made what I thought was an excellent point. The whole point of the initiative process (which I have all sorts of issues with, but I'll cover that another time) is to let citizens act like legislators and sponsor laws. If a legislator sponsors a law, that goes into the public record. Similarly, if a citizen sponsors a law, it's reasonable to do the same. I actually think this should be taken a step further - let's make every name, at least, public for every initiative petition that people sign. This would serve several purposes:
  1. It would improve the accuracy of the petitions because you could check whether your name had shown up on the list and get it removed if you didn't agree with the initiative
  2. It would allow people to sign petitions online rather than relying on running into someone looking for signatures. This happened to me when the anti-smoking initiative was in its petition state - I really wanted to sign it but almost missed the opportunity until finally on the last day I tracked down a man with the petition standing around in front of Trader Joe's.
  3. It would potentially make it cheaper to add initiatives because you wouldn't need to hire folks to collect signatures. This isn't a good thing because I want more initiatives (since I don't) but I'd prefer to see a level playing field so people like Tim Eyman with a huge organization behind them would not have as much of advantage over people with no financial backing who want to do things like stop smoking.
  4. Finally, it might encourage people to actually read the literature for the petition they're signing, or at least ask a few questions before they do so.

So I'm thinking I should start collecting signatures for my new initiative to publicize all initiative signators. Any interest in joining my cause? :-)

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